Sunday, 23 February 2014

Violent Sectarianism is anti-Islamic, says Baroness Warsi

Violent sectarianism isn't just un-Islamic,
it is anti-Islamic, says.Baroness Warsi
 @British Embassy Muscat

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Hostile and violent sectarianism is not just un-Islamic; it is anti-Islamic, said Baroness Warsi, British Foreign Office Minister, at her speech at Muscat on religious tolerance and highlighted the example that Oman provides for other countries.

While speaking at the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque, Muscat, on 18 February, 2014, she mentioned about rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. Baronesss Warsi said, “I said that we would tackle head on, the tough issues like the rising tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe. In the UK I felt the bigotry of Islamophobia had increased, so much so that sentiment against Muslims had become acceptable even in the most civilised of settings.”

“I felt that it was time for government to respond. I'm delighted that this government has done so, including through working with partners such as the OIC. I said that we would reach out to new faith communities as well as revive and restore some of our oldest relationships,” she said.

Religious persecutions against Christians
Denouncing the religious persecution of Christians, Baroness Warsi said, “I said that we would not shirk from our responsibility as a staunch defender of religious freedom. And it was right that last year, when I spoke at Georgetown University in Washington, I warned about religious persecution, especially against Christian minorities in parts of the Middle East. That is a tragic global crisis and it demands an international response.”

Hostile and violent sectarianism is anti-Islamic
Baroness Warsi argued that hostile and violent sectarianism is not just un-Islamic; it is anti-Islamic. Today I want to speak from a very personal perspective, in relation to my personal faith, Islam, and argue that hostile and violent sectarianism is not just un-Islamic: it is anti-Islamic.

It has no roots in the practice of our faith – indeed; I believe it is condemned in the founding tenets. It is tragically the cause of tension, turmoil and terrorism. It should have no place in our world today, and is something we all have a duty to condemn and tackle,” she said.

Baroness Warsi also maintained, “But whilst people have always defined themselves by a whole series of characteristics - I describe myself as British, as working class, as Muslim, as a mum - today, sadly, one's sect is becoming the dominant identifier. With the faithful not only increasingly identifying themselves by sect, but also defining themselves in comparison and in superiority to others.”

The hatred that can exist between sects – between people who follow the same God and share the same holy book – disturbs and saddens me,” said Baroness Warsi..

Sectarian differences used justifying religious extremism
Referring about sectarianism or sectarian differences in Britain, Baroness Warsi mentioned, “And even in Britain we are not immune from this. With division being preached by some, and belittling another’s faith or denomination being used as a way of reaffirming one’s own faith. Often the strongest condemnation seems to be reserved for your brother or sister in faith.”

Baroness Warsi said, “The fact that their version of their faith does not replicate yours is no longer seen as an inevitable, healthy difference of opinion, but is seen as an insurmountable difference - to the point where sectarian difference is used as a way of justifying acts of religious extremism. Around the world such violence is reaching an all-time high. In Iraq, according to the UN, at the height of the sectarian conflict, more than 50,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of terrorist violence. More than 8,000 Iraqis died in such violence last year alone.”

Sectarian violence in the world
Baroness Warsi mentioned how this sectarian violence spreads world wide. She said, “In Pakistan, in the past two years, more than 1000 people have died in sectarian violence. Sectarian violence continues to blight in Lebanon. It takes place in Somalia, between al Shabaab and its opponents, and in Yemen, with the targeting of Shia Houthi Muslims.”

“Now I accept that not all of these deaths were necessarily motivated by sectarianism alone. Some attacks were simply an attempt by terrorists to destabilise a community or a country,” she said.

Terrorists use sectarianism as a basis of their action
Baroness Warsi said, “But the fact that terrorists use sectarianism as a basis for their actions shows how deep and dangerous this problem has become.  It reflects an attitude that underpins a worldview that states you are only acceptable if you follow my version of my faith.”

Takfiri worldview
This Takfiri worldview, said Baroness Warsi, rejects the longstanding Islamic tradition of ikhtilaf – of difference – where the faithful appear far more concerned with others' faithfulness than with their own.

Baroness Warsi argued, “I have always been taught that faith is at its strongest when people find their own way to the Almighty. And as Oman's Religious Tolerance website so wisely states: "everyone must answer for himself before God".”

She also maintained, “But there's a deeply disturbing political element to sectarianism when negative political forces exploit these differences. And this approach takes on an even more sinister tone when sect is equated with nationality or loyalty to a particular country. Where Shia Muslims in Sunni majority countries are seen as loyal to another country, and vice versa. I've spoken about this previously, in relation to the tensions between different faiths, such as when Christians are persecuted in Muslim-majority countries because they are seen as agents of the west, and where Muslims in the west are held responsible for the actions of their co-religionists in the east.”

Violent Sectarianism is not peculiar to Islam only
Baroness Warsi also said, “Of course violent sectarianism isn’t peculiar to Islam.” She mentioned, “The United Kingdom knows all too well what happens when religious differences and divisions are used as a proxy for political problems. Over decades the divisions in the historic struggle in Northern Ireland were aligned with religious difference – that of Protestants and Catholics. Many lives were lost. The Troubles, and the scars remain.”

Historic clashes within Christianity
Baroness Warsi also maintained, “Indeed, the course of our history - in the UK but more so elsewhere in Europe - has been shaped by the bitter and historic clashes within Christianity. One only has to recall during the Crusades the cry of Christians against fellow Christians "kill them all, God will know his own."”

After elaborating sectarianism and sectarian violence worldwide and within the Muslim and Christian communities, Baroness Warsi said it is an incredibly complex problem and there are no easy solution.

Belief in God and Muhammad (peace be
upon him) as His Prophet
Baroness Warsi said, “Let me go back to basics. The universal Islamic definition of what constitutes a believer in Islam is extremely simple: la ilaha illallah Muhammadur Rasulullah: a belief in God and Muhammad as his Prophet (peace be upon him). There are no other stipulations or conditions at all for belief. Even at the time of the Prophet, there were differences of opinion between his Companions over his religious instructions that were interpreted in different ways, even over sacred duties such as prayers. The Prophet viewed those differences of opinions as healthy, as an inevitable diversity, and even as a blessing of, the faith.”

Rejectionist sectarianism goes against the very
foundation of the Muslim faith
“Therefore any notion of rejectionist sectarianism goes against the very foundation of the Muslim faith. Political and religious leaders must repeat this message, loudly and clearly, far and wide,” said Baroness Warsi. We need to point to history to show violent sectarianism is not inevitable.

Different sects within Islam worked together
Citing examples from Islamic history where violent sectarianism is not inevitable, Baroness Warsi said, “We must look to times when different sects within Islam worked together and worshipped together. They must look to the fact that Imam Jafar, a key figure in Shia Islam, was actually a teacher of Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifa, founders of two of the most widely followed Sunni Schools of Thought throughout the world today.”

Baroness Warsi urged, “All of us, believers and leaders alike, must reclaim the true meaning of Islam, and focus on the things that unite us, rather than those that divide us.  And in reclaiming the true meaning of Islam we must also reclaim the language of Islam, much of which has been distorted and usurped for political ends.”

Defining the concept of Ummah
Baroness Warsi then defined the concept of Ummah. She said, “Ummah is, by its very nature, a definition of community, one that includes difference, not excludes it. The Prophet's 'Ummah' in Medina was multi-faith and multi-ethnic. It was an Ummah of Conscience.”

She also reminded the people, “Let's not forget: the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is constantly referred to as "Rahmat lil Alameen" – mercy for the worlds. There could not be a more clear statement than that of the inclusive concept of Ummah in Islam.  So, we must reclaim the faith, and the language of the faith. But we must go beyond that.”

“We must highlight great living examples that show how violent sectarianism is not inevitable,” said Baroness Warsi.

Oman: an oasis of tolerance in a desert of division
Giving an example of the Ummah, Baroness Warsi said, “It (Oman) is an oasis of tolerance in a desert of division – proving that, right in the geographical centre of a troubled region, different sects can and do live side by side. This is testament to His Majesty the Sultan’s wise leadership and the character of the Omani people.”

“The warm encounters between Ibadhi and Shia Muslims at the Al Lawati Wall; the praying side-by-side of Sunni and Ibadhi Muslims in mosques like this one,” said Baroness Warsi.

Bloodshed due to theological differences is shameful
Baroness Warsi argued, “The humility and openness seamlessly extended to other faiths; the welcome given to the new Christian church in Ruwi by the Omani authorities. These are principles on which Oman thrives and I couldn't put it better than the Omani Ministry for Religious Affairs, when it states: “Bloodshed due to theological differences is shameful. Prayers in the mosques throughout the country are conducted with Sunnis and Shiites at the sides of the Ibadhis. The communal prayer to God knows no theological disputes. Everyone must answer for himself before God.”

A wedding between a Shia bride and Sunni groom
Baroness Warsi witnessed a greater symbolism of this co-existence when His Eminence, the Grand Mufti of Oman, an Ibadhi, conducting a wedding between a Shia bride and Sunni groom. She had this privilege of experiencing social harmony which she would like to recur over and over again. “To share, to provide, to demonstrate the benefits of such co-existence. To highlight the benefits of pluralism, and warn of the stifling impact of sectarianism.”

Baroness Warsi makes a case against violent sectarianism
Baroness Warsi said, “In previous speeches I have made the case that Islam - by it's very nature - is moderate. Today, I hope I have made the case that violent sectarianism isn't just un-Islamic, it is anti-Islamic. It is at odds with Islam's principles and perspective and it jeopardises the future of the faith.”

Baroness Warsi at the Sultan Qaboos
Grand Mosque, Muscat
Baroness Warsi delivered the above speech in Muscat on religious tolerance and highlighted the example that Oman provides for other countries.

Baroness Warsi is the first ever Minister of Faith in the British government. In 2010, she became the first Muslim to serve as British Cabinet Minister alongside her responsibility for South Asia, Central Asia, and the United Nations. She said, “….my remit covers faith at home and religious freedom abroad. In both cases, I have made religious freedom my personal priority: promoting and protecting people’s right to hold a faith, to manifest their faith, or indeed to change their faith. This is something which I believe is not only integral to personal identity but also leads to fairer, more secure and more progressive communities.”

Speaking about her personal life, Baroness Warsi mentioned, “My own faith - Islam - has been shaped by my upbringing, coloured by the country I was born in, shaped by my experiences as a lawyer, a campaigner and a politician and my personal experience as a daughter, a wife and a mother.  In my country, for a politician to talk honestly and openly about faith, especially one's own faith, is not particularly fashionable.”

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